Friday, February 8, 2008

In all the hullabaloo surrounding Super Tuesday over the primaries and caucuses, perhaps the most important news story of the day slipped from sight or was reported only in fragments. I have in mind our intelligence community’s annual appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. There our spy chiefs appeared to report how the war against terror is going.

How I wish I had a seat on that committee just for the day. I would have a few questions of my own. One would be, “Have any of you fellows detected the whereabouts of Boy Clinton?” Since the South Carolina primary when Bill fanned the smoldering embers of his party’s white racism, America’s most recent redneck president has slipped from sight.

As I reported in my book on Bill’s restless life in retirement, “The Clinton Crack-Up,” his record of campaigning for others is dismal. In 2004, of the 14 candidates he campaigned for, 12 lost. Doubtless Hillary’s strategists are even now pondering where to hide the big lovable oaf lest he do her campaign any more injury. They might consider hiding Hillary too. She is proving to be an implausible candidate.

But back to our spy chiefs’ appearance on Capitol Hill — a more serious question I would like to have asked would be about that National Intelligence Estimate of late 2007. Why were its claims about Iran’s nuclear plans so out of sync with those the Bush administration had been making?

Contrary to the administration, the NIE report claimed Iran had halted its nuclear arms program. What is more, this report conflicted with intelligence from France, the United Kingdom and Israel. In fact, Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, reported this very week that Iran will have nuclear weapons in three years. Gratefully, National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell explained the discrepancy. The NIE report was faulty.

As reported in the New York Sun, “The director of national intelligence is backing away from his agency’s assessment.” Mr. McConnell explained that “If I had ‘til now to think about it, I probably would change a few things.” One would be, “the way we describe the Iranian nuclear program.” The Iranians have halted work on nuclear warheads, said Mr. McConnell, but they proceed with the more dangerous business of attempting the enrichment of uranium and procuring the capacity to hit North Africa and Europe with nuclear arms. So I am putting my money on Mossad’s reports.

Mr. McConnell also gravely warned the senators about the survival of Pakistan: “In the last year, the number of terrorist attacks and deaths were greater than in the past six years combined.” The terrorists include members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, all of whom threaten Pakistan’s “very survival.” Another news story coming from Mr. McConnell at these momentous hearings is that al Qaeda plans more attacks against the United States and was working on a plan for attacking the White House as recently as 2006. Homegrown al Qaeda cells here have been primitive, but Mr. McConnell registered his concern that new, more sophisticated cells might threaten us domestically in the years ahead.

All these news stories are pretty gloomy. Whether the Democratic presidential candidates admit it or not, we are in a war with Islamofascists that will go on for years. Rolling up our forces abroad and bringing them home will neither end nor ameliorate the threat.

But there was one spy chief on the Hill this week with good news. CIA Director Michael Hayden confirmed that the CIA has used waterboarding and that it works prodigiously. The agency only used this technique of simulated drowning three times since September 11, 2001, saving it for terror leaders who have posed the utmost threat to our security, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, mastermind of attack on the USS Cole, Abu Zubaydah, the brains behind the thwarted millennium attacks, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who directed September 11 — as deserving a trio of barbarians as any waterboardist can imagine.

From these brutes — and in the wink of an eye — Mr. Hayden reports the CIA got a quarter of all the human intelligence it obtained from 2002 to 2006. Now we also know that this impressive interrogation technique was undertaken not only with the knowledge of the Bush administration but also that of then House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and then ranking Senate Intelligence Committee member Jay Rockefeller.

So the news from our chief intelligence practitioners is not all bad. It is sobering, however, and should have been on the front pages of newspapers throughout the country.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His “The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President’s Life After the White House” has recently been published by Thomas Nelson.

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